Category Archives: WORLD

This is the World’s Oldest Continually Operating Library, Where Lost Languages Have Been Found

Lost Languages Discovered In One Of The World’s Oldest Libraries

Africa, Egypt, St Catherine’s Monastery.

Researchers discovered ancient texts hidden beneath years of writing in the manuscripts at St. Catherine’s Monastery.

St. Catherine’s Monastery, one of the world’s oldest continuously running libraries, lies at the foot of Mount Sinai, the mountain atop which God is said to have given Moses the Ten Commandments.

St. Catherine’s is home to some of the world’s oldest and most valuable books and manuscripts, and the monks that watch over them.

These texts are largely manuscripts and are filled with mostly Greek and Latin. However, recently scientists have uncovered new languages in the manuscripts — and some that haven’t been used since the Dark Ages.

The only catch — the languages can’t be seen with the naked eye.

When the texts were originally written, the monks only wrote in ancient languages. However, the parchment they were written on at the time was valuable, and often subject to reuse.

Texts deemed less important were scrubbed clean from the parchment, which was then reused for more important information, often written in other more universal or modern languages.

These texts with multiple layers of writing are known as palimpsests.

Cloister of St Catherine of Alexandria monastery, 14th century, Cittaducale, Lazio, Italy.

Now, using new technology, a team of researchers has developed a way to uncover the ancient writings in the palimpsests at St. Catherine’s and have discovered languages thought to be long lost.

One such language, Caucasian Albanian, hasn’t been used since the 8th century. Other languages include Christian Palestinian Aramaic, which is a mix of Syriac and Greek.

To uncover the hidden writings, the scientists photographed the manuscripts using different parts of the light spectrum and run the images through an electronic algorithm. This allowed them to see the first writing put down on the pages.

Michael Phelps, a researcher at the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library in California, calls this development the beginning of a “new golden age of discovery.”

“The age of discovery is not over,” he said. “In the 20th century, new manuscripts were discovered in caves.

In the 21st century, we will apply new techniques to manuscripts that have been under our noses. We will recover lost voices from our history.”

Phelps went on to praise the monastery for their record keeping and devotion to the preservation of history.

“I don’t know of any library in the world that parallels it,” he said. “The monastery is an institution from the Roman Empire that continues operating according to its original mission.”

However, he notes that though the monks deserve praise for recording history, they are also to blame for erasing the parchment that held it.

“At some point, the material the manuscript was on became more valuable than what was written on it,” Phelps said. “So it was deemed worthy of being recycled.”

Besides the discovery of the Caucasian Albanian language texts, the researchers also uncovered what is thought to be the first-known copy of the Bible written in Arabic, as well as the earliest examples of writings from the Greek philosopher Hippocrates.

The Ashtiname of Muhammad at the Saint Catherine’s Monastery.

Well-Preserved Mosaic Floor Found in Roman Egypt

Well-Preserved Mosaic Floor Found in Roman Egypt

Once again, Kom El-Dikka archaeological site in Alexandria has furnished an important discovery.

The find at Kom El-Dikka confirms the popularity of ornate design between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD in Roman Alexandria

An Egyptian-Polish Archaeological Mission unearthed on Thursday the remains of a large part of an ancient city dating from the 4th to the 7th century AD in the coastal city of Alexandria.

The country’s Antiquities Ministry said in a statement.

The mission also uncovered a collection of Roman mosaics covering the floor of a house inside the ancient city during its working in the area of Kom el-Dekka in Alexandria, it added.

“Overall, the design of the mosaic, additionally equipped with a transversal field in front decorated with astragals and rosettes, is typical for the triclinia – the most imposing of the dining rooms in a Roman house,” said Majcherek.
“Overall, the design of the mosaic, additionally equipped with a transversal field in front decorated with astragals and rosettes, is typical for the triclinia – the most imposing of the dining rooms in a Roman house,” said Majcherek.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, pointed out that the area of Kom al-Dekka is witnessing a new scene of Roman mosaics multicolor, which confirms the spread of mosaic art in Alexandria in addition to the wealth of the inhabitants of these houses.

“The discovered city includes the remains of a small theater

A large imperial bathroom and a unique collection of 22 lecture halls, which are the remains of an ancient university,” said Ayman Ashmawy, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Department at the Ministry of Antiquities.

He added the mosaic design found on the floor of one of the houses consists of six hexagon pictures featuring a lotus flower, surrounded by a typical circular frame.

The Polish Archaeological Mission has been operating at the site located in the heart of the Old City since 1960 in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, Waziri added.

Excavations in recent years have focused on the study of residential architecture, which is still unknown in Alexandria from the 1st century to the 3rd century AD, Waziri added.

He explained that the buildings of that period were often lavishly decorated.

Rusty Blade Found In An Attic Turns Out To Be A Priceless Samurai Sword From The 12th Century

Rusty Blade Found In An Attic Turns Out To Be A Priceless Samurai Sword From The 12th Century.

The kohoki blade pulled from the attic of the Kasuga Taisha shrine.

If you’ve ever thought that your attic was just full of old junk, you may want to think again.

A rusty blade pulled from an attic decades ago was just revealed to be one of the oldest Japanese samurai swords in existence.

The sword was found covered in rust, in the attic of the Kasuga Taisha shrine in Japan.

Though the discovery of the sword actually took place in 1939, it was only this year that the shrine’s officials realized what the blade actually was.

During a ceremony that takes place every 20 years, the officials sharpened the blades to honor the traditional ceremony of shrine building.

When the blade was cleaned, the sword was discovered to be from the 12th century, making it one of the oldest in existence.

The kohoki blade is believed to be from the 12th century.

The 32-inch sword, known as a kohoki, was likely an heirloom sword, made for a samurai and passed down through his family.

Experts believe it was crafted during the Heian Period (794-1185) and given to the shrine as a gift sometime between the Nanboku-Cho Period (1336-1392) and the Muromachi Period (1338-1573).

The blade has a characteristic curved shape, which helped experts date it, as ancient Japanese swords, found in ruins or other temples, were known to be straight.

As well as the blade itself, experts have been studying the handle and the exterior portions of the sword.

Though there is no craftsman signature, some experts believe that the blade could have been made by a famed swordsmith known as Yasutsuna, as blades are known to have been made by him carry some of the same patterns as the kohoki.

Along with the kohoki, 12 other blades were found in the Kasuga Taisa shrine’s attic, though none as ancient or valuable as the kohoki.

After it was cleaned and examined, the sword was placed on display at the Kasugataisha Museum at the Kasuga Taisha shrine, where it will stay through the end of March.

Mysterious Viking Sword Made With Technology From the Future?

Mysterious Viking Sword Made With Technology From the Future?

The Vikings were among the fiercest warriors of all time, and a select few carried the ultimate weapon: a sword nearly 1,000 years ahead of its time.

A mystery sword made by the Vikings and engraved with the word Ulfberht has stumped archaeologists.

The sword is forged in such a way that it looks to have been made by technologies that weren’t available until 800 years after the Viking era.

Around 170 of the swords have been found, all of which date from between 800AD to 1000AD, but the technology that would have forged them is from the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s and 1900s.

A television program has looked into the mystery in more detail called, ‘Secrets of the Viking Sword’. Its researchers say that to forge the iron which the swords are made of, the ore needs to be heated to around 3000 degrees (F).

The Vikings were among the fiercest warriors of all time, and a select few carried the ultimate weapon: a sword nearly 1,000 years ahead of its time.

It then liquefies and the impurities are removed. It is then mixed with carbon to strengthen the iron.

However medieval technologies, which are what the Vikings would have been using, would not have been able to heat any metal or substance that high a temperature.

In those days, the impurities would have been removed by hammering them out of the iron.

In contradiction to this, the Ulfberht contains almost no impurities at all and it has thrice the amount of carbon in it than any other metals that are known to have existed at the time. The metal the swords are made of is known as crucible steel.

Fashioned using a process unknown to the Vikings’ rivals, the Ulfberht sword was a revolutionary high-tech blade as well as a work of art.

Furnaces that could heat metals and substances to extremely high temperatures what not invented until the industrial revolution when the tools for the heating iron to these temperatures were also developed.

A blacksmith has consulted with the television program’s researchers and has said that to make a sword like the Ulfberht Is highly complex and difficult.

The blacksmith is the only person who has the skills and tools available to try to reproduce the metal of the Ulfberht.

He believes that whoever made the sword during the Viking era would have surely been thought to possess magic powers since the metal was and still is so special and unique.

Produced between 800 to 1000 AD, the Ulfberht offered unique advantages as a weapon. Its combination of strength, lightness.

The sword bends but doesn’t break, it stays razor-sharp and is very lightweight, and so to soldiers, it would have been thought of as almost supernatural.

The blacksmith spent many days working to try to recreate the Ulfberht using medieval technology and finally did produce a similar metal with great skill and hard work. It’s rumoured that his hard work has inspired many others to become a blacksmith and produce a sword of similar quality. Of course, nowadays, it’s easy for someone to get ahold of the best beginner blacksmith kit, whereas in previous years it may not have been that easy.

Researchers now believe it is possible that the knowledge to make the swords originated in the Middle East and that trade routes between there and Europe would have spread the knowledge and technologies.

When those trade routes eventually closed, due to lack of use, so too did the Ulfberht ceased to continue being made.

The World’s Second Longest Wall, Kumbhalgarh Fort, is Right Here in India

The World’s Second Longest Wall, Kumbhalgarh Fort, is Right Here in India

We are all familiar with China’s Great Wall, the biggest wall ever constructed. It is a wall with a multitude of tales, including different historical and mythological assessments. In the past, Chinese inmates have been sent to serve their sentence.

It is likely that fewer individuals have heard about the Kumbhalgarh Fort and its adjacent wall, commonly agreed to be the world’s second-largest wall.

Kumbhalgarh is a place nestled in the western portion of India between 13 towering mountain peaks. More specifically, it can be found in Rajasthan State, approximately 50 miles from Udaipur City.

Found among the mountaintops, the Kumbhalgarh Fort is a 15th-century masterpiece built by Rana Kumbha. The site also counts as the birthplace of one of the greatest Mewar rulers and warriors are known as Maharana Pratap. However, this area was considered to be of high strategic importance long before the Kumbha dynasty came to prominence.

The very first fort to occupy the spot at Kumbhalgarh was there as early as the 6th century. Back then, it was King Samprati of the Maura Age who constructed it.

A majority of historians consider him a peace-loving ruler, and a very courageous king. He had managed to establish several Jain centers across different Arab countries, as well as Iran.

Kumbhalgarh is one of the many forts built by Maharana Kumbha (or just Rana Kumbha), under who Mewar had its greatest development
The massive gate of Kumbhalgarh fort called the Ram Pol (Ram Gate).
Many fondly call it “The Great Wall of India.” 

It is not very clear though what happened in the region or with the site of the fort until the beginning of the 14th century. At that point, it was Alauddin Khiljii who occupied the area. He was one of the greatest Muslim rulers by far, running successful campaigns on the Indian subcontinent and acquiring territories that reached the most southern parts of it.

Kumbhalgarh, as it is today, was built and ruled by the Kumbha dynasty, which eventually brought prosperity and progress to the region. Unlike the Great Wall of China, which took more than 1,800 years to complete, the Great Wall of India, as the Kumbhalgarh is often referred to, took just a little less than a century to finish.

The wall extends over roughly 22 miles, while its width varies between 15 and 25 feet, which is still enough to accommodate up to eight horses across it positioned side by side. Moreover, Kumbhalgarh Fort also makes for the second most important fort in the area, coming after the Chittorgarh Fort.

Occupying its spot in the wilderness atop a hill, Kumbhalgarh sits at around 3,280 feet above sea level. The building activities had commenced in 1443 AD and the story goes that at first, it was very difficult for Kumbha to make the wall stand strong and tall.

Kumbhalgarh is also the birthplace of Maharana Pratap, a great king, and warrior of Mewar. 
Aerial view of Kumbhalgarh

Legend has it that a couple of attempts were made to build the wall, but nothing really worked out. That is, until the moment a spiritual teacher supposedly came to give advice, saying that someone had to sacrifice their life in order for the wall to be successfully accomplished.

Several versions of the legend exist, and all of them tell of a different character who happened to sacrifice his life for the fort; either it was a pilgrim or a soldier, or the spiritual teacher and the pilgrim were one and the same person.

A person was chosen and beheaded in ritual practice, and the temple was constructed supposedly at the same spot where his head fell.

Distant view of the Kumbhalgarh Fort walls. 

In remembrance of this significant sacrifice, there is a shrine and a temple named as “Hanuman Pol” today, standing at the main gate of the fortress, which is one of seven gates in total that guard the locality.

The complex incorporates at least 360 temples in its boundaries, including Jain and Hindu ones, as well as a prominent watchtower. The Badal Mahal Palace is certainly one of the most remarkable edifices of all within the complex, standing out with its beautiful green, white, and turquoise colors.

Jain Temples in the fort
Shiva temple inside Kumbhalgarh Fort.

Throughout its long history, Kumbhalgarh parted the kingdoms of Mewar and Marwar for a great period of time, serving as the ultimate refuge of several Mewar rulers.

Over the course of five centuries or more, Kumbhalgarh has been occupied only once, and it took the combined effort of several armies to occupy the locality. The occupation lasted for a mere two days, and apparently, it all happened because all the water resources had allegedly run out back at the fort.

Significant renovation on Kumbhalgarh took its course during the 19th century. At present, the site is opened for visitors to explore, whether that means reaching the most remote parts of the wall, or by just taking a look at the most mesmerizing view that opens from its most accessible point.

Viking Sex Slaves, Behind The Founding Of Iceland

Viking Sex Slaves – The Dirty Secret Behind The Founding Of Iceland

Thingvellir National Park in Iceland.
Thingvellir National Park in Iceland.

Iceland has become among millennials a famous tourist destination with its incredible landscape, friendly people, and cheap flights.

Although, if any found themselves in Reykjavik and took a trip to the National Museum of Iceland, they might find a display there with an interesting statistic. In fact, it’s a statistic with some dark implications for Iceland’s past.

After analyzing the DNA of modern Icelanders, scientists have been able to come up with a fairly accurate idea of what the founding population of the country looked like.

Around 80% of Icelandic men were Norse, hailing from Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Of course, as a colony founded by Norse settlers, that’s to be expected.

But based on the mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed down in the female line, we know that over half of the female settlers were Celtic, meaning they came from Ireland, Scotland, and the northwestern islands of Britain. So essentially, the founders of Iceland were a strange combination of Norse men and Celtic women.

At first glance, that fact is just an interesting bit of genealogy. But it quickly grows more disturbing the more you think about it. After all, the people who settled Iceland were also the same people who produced the infamous Vikings.

However, as most people know, the Vikings had a habit of carrying off slaves. Given the genetics of Iceland and the nature of the people who settled it, it’s possible that a large percentage of the first women in Iceland were taken there as slaves.

Slavery played a much larger part in Norse society than most people are aware of. Slaves, or “thralls” as they were called, were present in most Norse communities, with many being taken in Viking raids across Europe. While the warriors spent most of their time fighting or drinking, it was up to slaves to do a great deal of the work around the village.

In fact, it was a serious insult to a Viking to say that he had to milk his own cows. That was considered work for slaves and women, and with so many around, no free-born Norseman needed to milk any cows.

The lives of slaves were often quite brutal. Slaves were regularly subjected to violence, both as punishment and for religious reasons. When their masters died, slaves were often murdered so that they could serve them in death as they had in life.

A depiction of Viking raiders.

Above all, Vikings prized young female slaves. These girls taken in raids could expect to be raped regularly while being pressed into a life of domestic servitude. The desire for women might even explain a lot about why Vikings began to raid Britain in the 9th century.

Some scholars have suggested that early Norse society was polygamous, and powerful chiefs married multiple wives, leaving none for other men.

According to this theory, Vikings first took to the seas to find women because there were few available in Scandinavia.

This theory could also explain why Vikings leaving to settle Iceland would have looked to Britain as a source of women.

There simply weren’t enough available women in Scandinavia to help settle the island. If this is the case, then the settling of Iceland involved Norse raiders making stops in Britain on the way, killing the men, and carrying off the women.

Once on the island, it’s harder to say what these women’s lives might have been like. Some historians have suggested that though they started out as slaves, the Norsemen in Iceland eventually took the women as wives. If so, then they may have treated them with a basic level of respect. Norse culture placed a heavy emphasis on maintaining a happy household with a spouse.

Others have suggested that these women may have willingly gone to Iceland with Norsemen who settled in their communities. But the Vikings were never shy about taking slaves, and there certainly were slaves in Iceland.

The most likely explanation is that there were Celts who volunteered to go to Iceland as well as Celtic women who were taken there as slaves. That means that, on some level, sexual slavery played a significant role in the settlement of Iceland.

This 48-Million-Year-Old Fossil Has an Insect Inside a Lizard Inside a Snake

Fossil of a beetle inside a lizard inside a snake – an ancient food chain

Paleontologists have uncovered a fossil that has preserved an insect inside a lizard inside a snake – a prehistoric battle of the food chain that ended in a volcanic lake some 48 million years ago.

Pulled from an abandoned quarry in southwest Germany called the Messel Pit, the fossil is only the second of its kind ever found, with the remains of three animals sitting snug in one another.

Earlier excavations have revealed the fossilized stomach contents of a prehistoric horse, whose last meal was grapes and leaves, and pollen grains were identified inside a fossilized bird. Remains of insects have also been detected in a sample of fish excrement.

Grube Messel

We have been lucky to glimpse such a primordial food chain of the snake, that ate a lizard, that had previously treated itself to a beetle, and ended up in a volcanic lake of the time. It is uncertain how the snake died.

Perhaps the snake’s body fell dead close to the shores of the lake before the waters claimed it. It had died there not more than 48 hours after its “last supper,” scientists say.

“It’s probably the kind of fossil that I will go the rest of my professional life without ever encountering again, such is the rarity of these things.” Such are the words of Dr. Krister Smith, a paleontologist at the Senkenberg Institute in Germany who took charge of the fossil analysis.

According to Dr. Smith, the almost entirely preserved snake was recovered from a plate found in the pit back in 2009, and the discovery soon turned out to be groundbreaking. Smith remarks, “we had never found a tripartite food chain–this is a first for Messel.”

Dr. Smith and Argentine paleontologist Dr. Agustín Scanferla used high-resolution computer imaging to identify the taxonomy of the snake and the lizard, however, they were unable to name the beetle, the least preserved of the three.

Palaeopython fischeri, exhibited in Naturmuseum Senckenberg, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

The snake, measuring some 3.4 feet in length, was identified as Palaeophython fischeri, a species which belongs to a group of tree-dwelling snakes that was able to grow to more than 6.5 feet in length and is related to today’s boas.

The preserved sample from Germany was only a juvenile, an assurance being not only the shorter length but also its food choice, the lizard. Adult boas are known to opt for bigger animals.

The lizard would have measured nearly eight inches and a clear hint for paleontologists that it was inside the snake’s body was that the snake’s ribs overlapped it.

It is an example of the now extinct species Geiseltaliellus maarius, a type of iguanian lizard that inhabited the region of what is now Germany, France, and Belgium. Messel has been the site that has provided some of the best-preserved samples of this lizard species.

What’s also interesting is that, even though lizards are known for shedding their tails when under threat, this one has kept it despite falling prey to the snake.

“Since the stomach contents are digested relatively fast and the lizard shows an excellent level of preservation, we assume that the snake died no more than one to two days after consuming its prey and then sank to the bottom of the Messel Lake, where it was preserved,” explained Dr. Smith.

Fossil of Palaeopython in the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien

This is a rare type of fossil, but it’s not the first instance in which a fossil has simultaneously exposed three levels of an ancient food chain. According to National Geographic, in 2008, a fossil dated at more than 250 millions of years old depicted a shark that had devoured an amphibian that had previously consumed a spiny-finned fish.

Both these findings are precious as they reveal significant details on how food chains functioned. In the case of the snake fossil, it is interesting that the lizard had eaten a beetle.

Before that, scientists didn’t know that the Messel lizard liked to dine on insects, as in previous digs they had been able to identify only remains of plants in fossilized lizard bellies. In the case of the shark, it was revealed that amphibians consumed fish before becoming a menu item to the fish itself.

A Scientist Claims The World’s Oldest Pyramid Is Hidden in an Indonesian Mountain

A Scientist Claims The World’s Oldest Pyramid Is Hidden in an Indonesian Mountain

When Dutch colonists became the first Europeans to discover Gunung (Mount) Padang in the early 20th century, they must have been awestruck by the sheer scale of their ancient stone surroundings.

Here, scattered across a vast hilltop in the West Java province of Indonesia, lay the remnants of a massive complex of rocky structures and monuments – an archaeological wonder since described as the largest megalithic site in all of Southeastern Asia.

But those early settlers couldn’t have guessed the greatest wonder of all might lay hidden, buried deep in the ground below their feet.

A Shocking Discovery At Gunung Padang

A close-up of the volcanic stones at Gunung Padang.

Located in the West Java Province of Indonesia, Gunung Padang doesn’t look like a pyramid. It looks like a large hill covered in broken columns of ancient volcanic rock, a kind of prehistoric graveyard where all the tombstones have been knocked down.

For many years, that’s all archeologists thought the site was. The Dutch colonizers who came across it in 1914 identified it as an ancient megalithic site, the remains of some stone monument prehistoric peoples had cobbled together on raised ground for a purpose lost to time.

While it was the largest megalithic site in Indonesia, it wasn’t nearly as significant as those in other places, and its stones weren’t the oldest; they were dated to around 2,500 years ago. Interest in the site was limited — that is, until 2010, when Danny Hilman Natawidjaja arrived on the scene.

The Gunung Padang site in the summer.

Hilman, a researcher from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, thought there was more to the site than anyone suspected — and he was going to prove it. He would later tell LiveScience, “It’s not like the surrounding topography, which is very much eroded. This looks very young. It looked artificial to us.”

Using careful excavations and remote sensing techniques like ground-penetrating radar and seismic tomography, he and his team got to work.

What they found stunned the archeological community. The majority of the 100-meter hill is man-made — and it’s not actually a hill at all. It’s a terraced pyramid, built up over millennia by the oldest civilizations the world has yet discovered.

Pulling Back The Layers Of The World’s Oldest Pyramid

The Gunung Padang archeological site.

The structure under the hill appears to be massive: researchers estimate that it’s as much as three times larger than Java’s famous Borobudur Temple Compounds. But what purpose it served and whether there’s a tomb at its heart remain a mystery. Gunung Padang doesn’t give up its secrets easily.

The enigma is largely a result of the pyramid’s complexity: the site was inhabited and reworked multiple times, as evidenced by its distinctive layers.

The level just below the hill’s grassy modern surface appears to have been constructed by a society that occupied the region around 600 BCE. But they weren’t the first on the scene — not even close.

A diagram of the layers within the pyramid.

That society was simply papering over the work of another civilization, this one dating back to 4,700 BCE. Their work is buried some four or five meters below the surface.

And yet this group, too, was building off what their forebears had already done. Digging deeper into the hill reveals an entirely new layer, this one roughly 10 meters below the surface, that dates back to around 10,000 BCE.

The heart of the pyramid, the deepest layer, appears to have been constructed over millennia, with the oldest bits hailing from as far back as 25,000 BCE.

The Gunung Padang site in Indonesia.

If the carbon dating on this deepest section is correct, then Gunung Padang didn’t just beat the pyramids — it clocks in ahead of the first recognized civilization in Mesopotamia. It shows evidence of a settled society 12,000 years before the agricultural revolution.

The society that first built at the site of Gunung Padang even predates the last Ice Age, which ended in 11,500 BCE — a date that archaeologists have traditionally used to mark the beginning of the great human civilizations.

Nationalism And Skeptics Play Politics With Gunung Padang

Visitors explore the Gunung Padang site.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the discovery has been controversial. The nature of the find alone makes the stakes enormously high: Indonesia may be home to the earliest advanced civilization the world has ever uncovered. The find is a source of enormous pride to the Indonesian people and especially the government, which has spared no expense on the excavation.

Yet some suggest this enthusiasm has led Hilman and his team to come up with biased interpretations of the evidence they’ve uncovered. The team’s carbon dating procedures have fallen under scrutiny, and some believe the results don’t mean what the researchers claim they do.

Also raising eyebrows are the remains of what researchers believe was an ancient cement mixture used to glue Gunung Padang’s stones together. Its composition, a combination of clay, iron, and silica, suggests that iron-melting technology was in use well before the beginning of the Iron Age, drawing a picture of a society far more advanced than any other known to have existed at the time.

Several scientists, however, have spoken out against this conclusion, saying that the mortar isn’t necessarily man-made; similar compositions are found in nature. Vulcanologist Sutikno Bronto doesn’t even believe the structure is a pyramid: he thinks it’s the neck of a volcano near the site.

As this view of Mount Bromo illustrates, Java is a land of volcanoes — which has led some to suspect that the pyramid of Gunung Padang is really just the neck of one of the region’s many volcanoes.

There’s also the fact that nearby excavations haven’t turned up similar results. Less than 30 miles away, ancient bone tools dating back to 7,000 BCE were discovered in a cave. For some, it’s hard to believe that the builders of Gunung Padang could have been advanced enough to build pyramids while their closest neighbors were still carving tools from the bone.

Proponents of Hilman’s conclusions have suggested the answers might lie beneath the waves of the Java Sea. Millennia ago, when sea levels were lower, the ocean bed was land — and perhaps the home of the great society the research team envisions. But the sea has since swallowed the evidence of their existence, making concrete proof difficult to find.

In short, though Hilman and his researchers have put forward a compelling challenge to those who believe the prehistoric peoples of 20,000 years ago were simple hunter-gatherers, many remain unconvinced. The hunt for evidence continues, and the debate rages on.